In March, Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti spoke at the University of Groningen (RUG) as part of ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’. His controversial Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement calls for a boycott of the state of Israel until Palestinians and Arabs have equal rights with Jewish Israelis.
In the Reformatorisch Dagblad newspaper, the Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI) strongly disapproved of the University of Groningen providing a platform for the activists and their week of action. It claimed pro-Israel Jewish students would feel threatened as a result. The Reformed Political Party (SGP) raised the issue in parliament.
“I can imagine that this week might evoke unsafe feelings among Jewish and other students”, Dijkgraaf wrote, also on behalf of Minister of Justice and Security Yeşilgöz. “That said, there must be room within an academic environment – within the limits of the law and respecting academic standards – for controversial or unwelcome views that may meet with resistance. This is not at odds with a safe learning environment.”
Was that the case in Groningen? According to the Minister, there was at least one instance in which this criterion was not met. “In retrospect, it has emerged that one meeting took place during which the necessary conditions were not ensured, and there may therefore have been an unsafe environment.”
Those conditions were that the meetings during ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ would be open to all, that a moderator had to be present and that the law would not be broken. The Minister did not specify which condition was violated. While the university has indicated it is willing to tighten its protocol,the Minister has stated he will not be discussing the week with the university further. “Considering a general call for a boycott or sanctions against a country as discrimination would not be logical”, he believes.
Together with all institutions, he is working on an approach to improve social safety and inclusion in higher education. He is also involving the National Coordinator for Combating Anti-Semitism and Jewish youth organisations, he reports.
Reporting a crime
Dijkgraaf cannot answer the question of whether anti-Semitism in the Netherlands is on the rise due to the ‘growing number of anti-Israel events’: “There are no unambiguous data on this.”
He emphasises: “Anti-Semitism must be dealt with firmly. I therefore urge students and others who are victims of this to make a report to the police.”